Let's examine how a quotation can be taken out of context, and why careful reading of your sources matters. Here's a passage from an essay written just after the air war against Iraq began. Read it, and see if you can decide what the author's "thesis" might be:
If reader who was preparing a paper on the Gulf War stopped reading Easterbrook's article, "Robowar," here, she might be tempted to believe Easterbrook supports the use of "smart weaponry" and "precision bombing."
In the next paragraph, however, Easterbrook notes "let's have no illusions about what this equipment might accomplish in a war against a nation that could strike back" (19). How does this quotation change your interpretation of Easterbrook's thesis? A writer who used Easterbrook's first quotation without considering his other arguments would misrepresent Easterbrook's opinion.
Often writers scrambling for "evidence" to support a point will not only misrepresent a source, but also overuse quotations and examples from it. Here's a sample from our hypothetical Gulf War essay that falls into several traps:
This passage could potentially provide a very thoughtful analysis of the idea expressed in the first sentence, but the paragraph ends up as a string of quotations with very little of the writer's own interpretation or analysis. Worst of all, the passage has a quotation "dropped in" without an introduction or transitional statement at , and a quotation that contradicts the writer's topic sentence at .
Let's now turn to an effective revision of the same material.
The writer has added more of her own words and interpretations to balance the quotations. She also introduces the quotations more creatively, avoiding the boring "He writes" "She states" brand of introduction. Whenever possible, this writer moves from her ideas directly into the quotation, as in the second and final sentences.
Note that Michael Kelly's quotation has been qualified, and the writer uses it as evidence to address readers who hold a contrary view to that expressed in the topic sentence. The revision also says something about Kelly's authority as a source; remember, anyone can posit an opinion, but a source's credibility comes from its writer's expertise or personal experience.
Back to 'Using Sources'